In November last year, I removed myself from all social media. While the trigger was completely unexpected, it was a decision that had been coming a long, long time, for a range of reasons that were festering (consciously and unconsciously) for about as long as I’ve been back on various platforms.
For the last many years I’ve harboured a love-hate relationship with all forms of social media. I’ve reacted strongly in favour of some, and ranted vehemently about others, depending on what my opinion was at the time. There’s no denying the tremendous value being online, social networks and using technology for communication, has added to various aspects of my life. My entire career as a freelance writer, for example, wouldn’t have been a reality today, if it weren’t for social networking. But I’ve always slipped in and out of the love and hate sides of the fence, when I become aware of the performative kind of existence being online demands. And no matter what we may think or tell ourselves, the lines between real and virtual worlds tend to blur.
This is something that has troubled me, for as many years as I have been online — both as a creator as well as consumer of content. I’ve been blogging for over a decade now, so the idea of curating slivers of my life is not new to me. My writing life has thrived because my blog has been a legit means to record and reflect on things in the only way I know how — in writing. It has provided a creative outlet for my writing. Sharing my blog online has allowed me to amplify my voice, push my skills as a writer and create an audience for it — professionally and personally. So there’s no denying how much I have benefited, and continue to benefit from it.
However, most recently, my angst came from the glaring truth that despite all the online chatter, putting myself out there, baring it all, sharing snippets of my life avidly on Instagram and my blog, there were entire chunks of real life developments that I was unable to share with some of my closest friends. Not for the lack of space and time to do it, but for reasons I couldn’t fully fathom then.
Over time, I realised that while technology definitely makes staying in touch and communicating over distances easier, there are many ways in which virtual connectedness does not make for enduring relationships.
What I was missing in my real life relationships the intimacy, the real space and a sort of closeness that I found was slowly slipping away, even as I felt connected and one amongst a large community of likeminded folks, online.
The more I thought about it, the more aware I became of certain patterns, that all traced back to the mediums and platforms of communication that we use. It’s easy to mistake the ease and immediacy that tools like WhatsApp and Instagram provide, for openness. But increasingly, I felt like I was always at arm’s length, at bay, behind a screen. There were so many things I’d much rather have talked about in person, over a cup of tea, or sitting across a table, or sharing a lazy afternoon, or a glass of wine, or while taking a walk. I have desperately missed making memories that don’t involve swiping my fingers hurriedly over my phone keypad, and collapsing entire gusts of emotion into a flattened emoji.
There is something about the way in which these tools lull us into constantly being an audience behind a screen, that slowly but surely creeps into the way we are in our real world relationships too. They do a fabulous job of creating the illusion of being in touch, while actually allowing us to (quite unconsciously) keep everything, including our closest people, at arm’s length. The weight of this irony hit me in full force in the months after I move to Bangalore.
Part of this conflict also crept to the surface because in the real world, the changes and transformation I’ve been seeking, have increasingly pushed me to pause, seek solitude, re-examine, rewire and reimagine a new way to move ahead. To listen to the voice within and do what makes sense to me, rather than follow a path already laid out. But the constant and habitual consumption mode that being online makes a habit of — the being an audience, the habit of instant gratification, instant judgement, immediate decision-making — meant my patience had worn thin, and I had no juice left when the going got tough and required me to slow down and go the long haul.
My real and virtual worlds were officially at loggerheads. While my heart was always telling me to slow down, the constant exposure to media, information, social networking and the like, the constant consumption had caused a deep mental fatigue, from just sheer information overload.
My brain isn’t wired to be on all the time. And being online was doing exactly that. The streams of information blurred, the chatter and subconscious preoccupations take over, and the conversations and engagements around things seen online were truly weighing me down.
I attribute a large part of the inexplicable restless that crippled me for over three years, and the constant need for certainty and regularity that gripped me, to this.
Anyhow, what started as random reflection many, many months ago, culminated rather unceremoniously one evening in November, with me taking an impulsive decision to quite social media altogether. It isn’t the first time. I stayed off Facebook (in the years when it was really the only big social network, before the hype around Twitter and Instagram grew) for over two years before. During that period, I didn’t ever miss it and the only reason I came back was to sell my home-baked cakes. Similarly, despite many reservations that popped up ever so frequently in the last few years, I had kind of made my peace with the hows and whys of continuing to be on Facebook because it was where I generated, found, promoted my work. I’ve taken several breaks from social media too. Month-long detox stints — how very first-world it all sounds.
But that evening in November, something definitely snapped. And this time I have a very safe, sinking sort of feeling that it is likely to be for good. This is the first time that it doesn’t feel like an experiment, or a detox with a time limit. This is the first time it has slipped in naturally and almost three months in now, I can safely admit that I’ve literally never felt the urge to go back.
It is also the first time that I have acknowledged that I can complain as much as I like, but ultimately the power to choose to be online or not rests with me. It is ultimately a choice. Completely in my hands.
A month into getting off social media (Instagram, Twitter and Facebook), I also cut into Whatsapp by turning off data for 10-12 hours every night. This felt like the harder ask, personally. And even though I am asleep for the most part of this time, I know for certain the world’s of good it has done for my efforts at mindfulness. Within mere days, I realised, as I’d suspected that absolutely nothing changed online. The world continues to spin, people continue to exist and stay in touch. You’re just not compelled to respond instantly.
Offline though, I am having relaxed and purposeful dinner time, more engaged and intimate conversations with VC that we’d lost touch with, and a colossal amount of time gained to read. That’s just the boost in terms of time, which is typically most noticeable and measurable.
And I suspect it’s just the tip of the ice berg.